Sunday, September 27, 2015

Just in from the Statehouse


BOISE – Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and the Idaho Legislature filed a lawsuit Friday challenging the federal government’s failure to stick to a transparent, collaborative process in setting new land-use restrictions on greater sage-grouse habitat in Idaho and other states in the West. 

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced on Tuesday that listing sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was “not warranted.” But Governor Otter and other Idaho stakeholders contend the process behind amendments to federal land-use plans aimed at protecting the birds imposed unprecedented and unnecessary restrictions on Idaho farmers and ranchers, sportsmen, recreationists, employers and others.

“We didn’t want an ESA listing, but in many ways these administrative rules are worse. This complaint is an unfortunate but necessary step to protect the rights of Idaho citizens to participate in public land decisions that will impact their communities, their economy and their lives,” Governor Otter said. “Our people deserve to be involved in development of critical land-use plans that will responsibly address the most serious threats to Idaho’s sage-grouse population – wildfires and such invasive species as cheat grass that are fueling them.”  

The Governor contends the flawed amendment process by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service effectively undermined years of open and partnership-driven work by local and State leaders and other stakeholders. Their goal was to avoid the potentially draconian impacts of a “threatened” or “endangered” ESA listing for sage-grouse.

Then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked Idaho and ten other western states in 2011 to develop and submit state-based conservation plans for incorporation into a National Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy primarily focused on updating nearly 100 federal land-use plans.  Governor Otter responded by gathering a diverse Idaho sage-grouse task force and submitting a consensus- and science-based Idaho alternative.

Once the Idaho plan was submitted, the federal government ended collaboration and turned to developing a national solution that includes new and tougher land-use restrictions. Interior Department officials contend the last-minute, closed-door effort was necessary to prevent a sage-grouse listing decision. The lawsuit filed today in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleges the federal government violated the law by failing to complete the federal planning process in an open and transparent manner, or to complete a necessary analysis of the newly ordered land-use restrictions. The full complaint can be found here

“Under a collaborative framework that included industry, the conservation community, and state and federal experts, we achieved something pretty remarkable for sage-grouse and the citizens of Idaho through our planning effort,” said Dustin Miller, administrator of the Idaho Office of Species Conservation. “Unfortunately, the Interior Department has chosen to ignore our local efforts and replace them with top-down and unnecessary restrictions through the land-use plans that weren’t properly vetted with the states and the public.”  

Idaho Department of Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore said, “Idaho’s conservation actions and science support keeping sage-grouse off the Endangered Species list.   But U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leaders recently stopped using science and common sense when it came to identifying sage-grouse habitat for federal land managers. The Service ignored Idaho sage-grouse experts and arbitrarily designated thousands of additional acres as sage-grouse strongholds when they don’t even contain sage grouse habitat. Unfortunately the Forest Service and BLM relied on flawed information in making their land-use decisions for Idaho. It’s important we focus sage-grouse conservation on habitat and actions that really matter.”
“The Idaho Legislature values sage-grouse and their habitat; but we also value the people who use the land and make their livelihood there,” Idaho Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill said. “Idaho developed a plan that conserved sage-grouse and its habitat while maintaining predictable levels of land use, but the federal government rejected it. It is imperative that we defend our plan and Idaho’s way of life.”

“Dwight Eisenhower said, ‘Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field.’ His admonition rings particularly true regarding the Obama administration’s heavy-handed sage-grouse mandates on millions of acres of western land that have no impact in Washington, D.C., but make a world of difference to us here in Idaho,” Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke said.

“Secretary Jewell, and Secretary Salazar before her, promised a transparent public process, but in the end they imposed unnecessary land management policies that have little or nothing to do with the birds – all developed during closed-door sessions with no input from Idahoans who have worked hard on our state management plan,” Bedke said. “That’s the kind of thing that leaves Idahoans not only questioning the process but doubting the Obama administration’s intentions.  These additional burdensome measures seem to speak to something besides the protection of sage-grouse.  I appreciate the Governor’s leadership in challenging them.”

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